A uniquely experienced observer of China gives us a sweeping historical novel that takes us on a journey from the rise of Mao Zedong in 1949 to the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989, as a father and his son are swept away by a relentless series of devastating events.
It’s 1950, and pianist Li Tongshu is one of the few Chinese to have graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Engaged to a Chinese American violinist who is the daughter of a missionary father and a Shanghai-born mother, Li Tongshu is drawn not just by Mao’s grand promise to "build a new China" but also by the enthusiasm of many other Chinese artists and scientists living abroad, who take hope in Mao’s promise of a rejuvenated China. And so when the recently established Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing offers Li Tongshu a teaching position, he leaves San Francisco and returns home with his new wife.
But instead of being allowed to teach, Li Tongshu is plunged into Mao’s manic revolution, which becomes deeply distrustful of his Western education and his American wife. It’s not long before his son, Little Li, also gets caught up in the maelstrom of political and ideological upheaval that ends up not only savaging the Li family but, ultimately, destroying the essential fabric of Chinese society.
"Absorbing, perceptive, heartbreaking, Orville Schell’s epic novel is a devastatingly true and moving portrait of what two generations of educated Chinese have experienced through the ordeal of the revolution and throes of reform. It is also a meditation on exile that plumbed, with rueful humor, the existential dilemma of living 'in-between' China and America, a paean to the 'cultural mongrels' who, in their search and struggle for belonging and dignity, are aided by the transcendental power of music." (Jianying Zha, author of Tide Players)
“Schell has put a lifetime of hope, sorrow, and wisdom about China into this remarkable book. The result is an epic and deeply moving story that few other people could have written.” (Adam Hochschild, author of Rebel Cinderella)
“A dazzling novel that is sweeping in its historical canvas and intimate in its psychological insights. The gripping narrative paints a granular, searing portrait of China under Communist rule, lived through magnetic characters and indelible scenes. Schell is an elegant craftsman, renowned scholar, and a virtuoso. The result is a splendid mosaic which deeply moves and informs the reader, evoking both the distinct and the universal.” (Winston Lord, former US Ambassador to China)